11/29/2011 05:20 pm ET | Updated Jan 29, 2012

Rep. Ryan and the Myth of "Class Warfare"

When the pressure is high enough, we all tend to revert to the dynamics of the playground, for better or worse. American politics seems filled with a kind of "is too/is not," "so's your old man" discourse. Now, I try to stay away from that kind of thing, for all the right reasons. But I hereby, temporarily, yield to temptation on an issue that will dominate the politics of 2012.

Call it income inequality, or tax fairness, or soak-the-rich, or tax-the-job-creators. All of these fall under the forbidding rubric of "class qarfare," a term the corporate Right delights in throwing at the Left when demands are made for some form of millionaire's tax or the Occupy Wall Street slogans pit the 99% against the 1%. Representative Paul Ryan said on FOX News, "Class warfare will simply divide this country more. It will attack job creators, divide people and it doesn't grow the economy...Class warfare may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics."

This is rich and fertile ground. Let's deconstruct Ryan's phrase. First, it accepts the fact that America is divided into classes, not an inconsiderable concession from the Right. While there may be differences in the percentages we apply to each class, the Right now accepts a view of America divided into the poor, the middle class, and the rich. Inevitably, it becomes fair to ask if they share the same goals and interests, and if they don't what we should do about it. Next it adopts the more Marxist view of that divide.

Republicans speak not about class conflict, or class distinctions -- they evoke the images of peasants and workers seeking the demise of the rich. A little overreaching, but vivid. And all as a result of proposals that return us to the tax rates of those notable Bolsheviks, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

It's not just about the economic consequences of Ryan's policy, it's about what is legitimate discourse. This is the sort of conversation taking place on Andrew Breitbat's popular and notoriously conservative blog Big Government: "Any casual student of history knows this one simple fact of life...The rich ALWAYS feed at the trough first...There is no time or place in history when that constant was not the case...And for these nitwit progressives to say otherwise is simply foolish class warfare propaganda...It was the opportunities our Constitution-driven small government provided that gave the wealthy the avenue to create yet more wealth and jobs for the rest of us...That is what made this nation great."